It's hard to imagine how Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in 1621, the traditional first Thanksgiving, or 150 years ago when President Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving and Praise. Today, the day before Thanksgiving Day, thoughts of past Thanksgivings come to mind. In particular, the thoughts come as I pull down the big wooden butter or bread bowl of my grandparents and maybe their grandparents to make bread. Certainly this was one task common to many years back.
The recipe would be similar to that of our ancestors a century ago; yeast, water, flour, oil, a sweetener and a bit of salt, maybe some special flavorings. The yeast, probably Fleischmann's, a newly formed New York company trying to create a dependable yeast, would be similar to the yeast by the same name that we use today. Today's flour is probably more refined than that of a century ago although at times we grind our own flour which is no more refined than any time in the past. Bee's honey and milk from the cow would be similar now and then. Oil may have been lard rendered from the fat of a pig in the past.
The process is different although both doughs ended up in the same wooden bowl to rest and rise. The bowl is stained and scratched after decades of use; the edges soft and pitted with age. The larger and perhaps older sister bowl still hanging on the wall has a metal strap holding a crack from splitting further.
The next stage of the bread making is as old and universal as time and space itself, kneading on a board with our bare hands, folding and pushing down, and folding and pushing again and again. Finally the shaping, placing in pans and baking. Fortunately for us today's oven is regulated by a thermostat and starts by merely turning a knob or pushing a button, which allows the baker to move to another task instead of stoking the fire with coal or wood and trying to maintain a uniform heat.
I would have loved to share the next moment with our ancestors as they cut a slice of fresh bread or tear off a piece, placing it in their mouths and savoring the taste. Perhaps they too reflected on their ancestors of a century earlier. For now the bowl is back on the top pantry shelf and the bread is ready for the celebration of thanks tomorrow.